By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

In one word, what’s this a picture of?

Last month, the Port of Portland rejected a billboard that was proposed for the Portland airport. “Welcome to Oregon: Home of the Clearcut”, reads the ad, developed by a coalition of groups that oppose legislation that would increase timber harvests on federal lands. Now a subject of a free-speech debate, the fate of the billboard is unclear.

The billboard is meant to be provocative. But what interests me more than the billboard itself, or even the purpose behind it, is the public’s reaction, as expressed in various Letters to the Editor in the Oregonian. These letters reveal wide-ranging perceptions of what forests and forestry are (and aren’t).

One letter writer tried to distinguish a clearcut from a forest: “an old-growth forest is a diverse and active ecosystem that has evolved over hundreds or even thousands of years. A tree farm on clear-cut land is a monoculture plantation forest that exists solely to produce a new crop for the timber harvest.”

That prompted another letter from Ron Larson, a local Master Woodland Manager, and his wife Nicky. The Larsons wrote:

The distinction [that the previous] letter writer draws between a forest and a tree farm is too simplistic.

We are members of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association. As the name implies, our tree farm — Urwald Tree Farm — is small. We are careful stewards of our forest. We plant, we thin and we harvest, avoiding clear-cutting as much as possible. We try to preserve its diversity.

Members of our association work tirelessly to find new ways of making use of forest products. It is a serious challenge to keep the forest healthy and economically viable. Very few of us ever keep track of the hours we spend doing this work. It would mean acknowledging that it takes having a “real” job in order to be able to afford hanging on to the tree farm, in the hope that future generations may enjoy it as well. 

This short letter raises all sorts of points worthy of further reflection. But let’s think about the first sentence, and the terminology that many of the people that I call “small woodland owners” use. Do you own a tree farm? Or a forest? Or both, or neither?

I’ve never met a self-described Tree Farmer whose sole objective is to produce a new crop for harvest. On the flipside, I run across very few people who say they own a forest. Instead, they call it timber, woods, woodlands, “the farm”, etc.

What do you call your land? Why? Does it matter? Do the words that you use evoke a reaction?

Most of the land owners I know stay involved in the business of forestry (or whatever you want to call it) because they like tending the land, making it productive, being out in the woods, the physical labor, keeping up a tradition, or some combination of these. Very few would put communicating with the public about forestry at the top of that list. But like it or not, forestry is very much a public issue in Oregon. We are fortunate to have passionate woodland owners who can articulate its nuances to others.

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